In order to assess the result of the first US-Russian talks, the tactics of both sides must be properly interpreted. Russia may have been anxious to achieve three different goals. The first is to organize an excuse for a decisive attack on Ukraine.
The second is to negotiate concessions, for example an unwritten agreement that Ukraine and Georgia will remain outside NATO and the European Union, and America will stop military aid to Kiev, and Russia will drop the remaining demands.
The third, minimal, goal is for Russia to reach a level on a par with the US, that is, to replace multilateralism with bilateral talks that exclude the European Union, not to mention individual states.
This would de facto undermine the aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia to integrate with NATO and the EU, and would give some points to the weakening Putin in domestic politics. Rather small, because the Russians have a negative view of the clinking of sabers abroad today. They expect funds to be invested in the modernization of the economy and the fight against social problems, not in conquests.
Russia knows the US is preoccupied with itself. Biden’s reforms may not have ended like the “Polish order”, but instead of popularity, they ensured him a decline in support and a conflict within his own party. Rather, Biden in Russia is considered to be an interim president who may not run in the next elections at all.
In the Kremlin, they noticed an escape from Afghanistan. They also know that if the US is focused on foreign policy at all, it is China that is pursuing an increasingly assertive policy and will involve US forces more and more. The Kremlin also sees that there is no need to be afraid of the European Union, which is not eager to create a common defense policy, allows it to become dependent on Russian gas and has to deal with Jarosław Kaczyński.
Russia: what ultimatums?
In the Western media, the Geneva talks, as expected, turned out to be the number one topic. Meanwhile, in the Russian edition of the public television most representative of the Kremlin, the talks with the Americans were announced only in the 11th minute. Kazakhstan was the number one news. Putin’s online consultations with the leaders of the Mutual Security Treaty Organization were shown, ie an attempt to repeat the “Warsaw Pact” as a pocket version for the time being (Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia are included). Putin received allegiance addresses from the president of Kazakhstan, and bandits were burning the capital in the background. Then the expert invited to the television resisted the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, but not about NATO, but … Kazakhstan again.
Only then did the announcer mention the talks with the USA and the head of the delegation, Sergei Ryabkov, appeared, who repeated Russia’s demands, but shortly afterwards summed up the talks as factual, profound and professional, which makes him optimistic, despite the fact that he does not see the American side understanding for the categorical nature of the Russian demands. . Then “Wremia” gave an audio message from Wendy Sherman saying that NATO will not give up the policy of open doors to all countries that aspire to join the Alliance. “We will not decide about Ukraine without Ukraine and Europe without Europe. Without NATO, without NATO.” And then the most interesting appears.
The Russians say that they are counting on further meetings: in Brussels on Wednesday at the NATO headquarters in Brussels and on Thursday at the permanent council of the OSCE, to which Russia belongs, and is currently chaired by Poland. Ryabkov assured that there would be no escalation, let alone an attack on Ukraine. Russia is not a threat to anyone, it only cares about its vital interests. He denied that Russia was giving the West an ultimatum, stressed that he was simply honest and said what he thought. Then “Wremia” returned to the subject of Kazakhstan.
The more liberal “Kommersant” interviewed Ryabkov. The Russian diplomat not only did not thunder, but seemed initially satisfied. – The usefulness of the talks conducted in Geneva lies in the fact that for the first time we were able to talk about matters that were previously as if invisibly present, existed, but as if behind the scenes. Everyone understood that they existed, but pretended that it was better not to take care of them, but now things are called spelled out and that in itself has a healing effect on our relationship with the West, he explained.
Journalists asked the Russian deputy minister several times about Moscow’s response to Washington’s possible refusal. Ryabkov did not give an unequivocal answer to this question. However, he repeated again that Russia had no plans to attack Ukraine. “But it is not at all clear where the pages are going” – summed up the disappointed “Kommersant”.
You do not need to announce your non-admission to NATO
What is this all about? The United States is well aware that a move away from multilateralism towards bilateral deciding on the world order is a minimum goal of Putin. Nevertheless, Russia has already received its bilateral talks, hence Ryabkov’s satisfaction. This is somewhat reminiscent of the way in which Germany recently resolved the problem on the Polish-Belarusian border. Merkel called Lukashenka and Belarus relented. Lukashenka could have treated this as symbolic recognition of him as the head of state by the leader of Europe. Just like now Putin, especially after the intervention in Kazakhstan, may consider himself one of the leaders of the world.
So Russia has managed to achieve one of its goals. It seems that now it will strive for the second, i.e. an unwritten agreement to stop Ukraine and Georgia’s integration with the West. Were it not for the entire content of the ultimatum and the categorical style, the mere demand to withdraw from the West’s support for Ukraine would be a radical demand. However, against the background of the whole, it seems to be a minimum plan – almost a compromise. And that’s what the staffage is for.
If, after eight hours of talks, the Kremlin-controlled media does not rumble that Russia has been offended and provoked an appropriate response, nor does Ryabkov (Russia’s number two diplomat) do so, it seems that it was not a pretext to invade Ukraine. It is impossible to extend the outrage for a whole week and get a propaganda effect from this and an excuse for a military response.
The West was to learn that Russia was now equal to the US. He’s got to get something and it’s over. Ukraine is now the minimum, not the maximum. And if it works, we’ll find out. Or not. While the admission of a country to NATO has to be announced, there is no need to refuse it.
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